Left behind

The last US combat brigade in Iraq has left the country. Some have described this as the end of the US occupation of Iraq. It is not. Fifty thousand American men and women — a third of the US occupation forces — remain, ostensibly to train the Iraqi army. Their real role and mandate has not been made clear. Tens of thousands of other American mercenaries and others to protect ‘American interests’ have not left. Many in the US government are proudly proclaiming that the combat troops have left two weeks ahead of President Barack Obama’s deadline. To many across the world, they are leaving 88 months too late. In fact, they should not have come to Iraq in the first place. The occupation has not ended. Hence, neither will the insurgency. It is likely that insurgents will continue to attack ‘American interests’ in the country. In that event, will the US forces remain restrained and allow the Iraqi government to take action? Or will they take the law into their hands, as is their habit, and strike at the insurgents?

American soldiers came in 2003. They overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government and unleashed a costly and brutal civil war on the Iraqis. Around a million Iraqis died; their economy and daily lives, which was shattered by the occupation, is still in a shambles. What did the Americans win? Nothing. An unpopular US became more hated in West Asia and the rest of the world. Saddam’s overthrow put in place a Shia-dominated government in Iraq. American manipulation of Iraqi politics has empowered Iran in the region. If the US’ objective in occupying Iraq was to take control of its oil, that goal too has remained elusive. The Iraqi government has awarded most of the oil contracts to Russian, Chinese and Malaysian companies. Only two American companies have received contracts.

Yet the US government has said it won in Iraq. It is hard to ignore the similarities between the US disaster in Iraq and another in Vietnam. Then, as now, the US lost but declared victory as it withdrew. Going into denial about what actually happened might protect those who made the decision to invade Iraq from American public fury but it will not prevent the repetition of mistakes. Only an honest admission that the invasion was a blunder and an unconditional apology to Iraqis will right the terrible wrong America and its allies did to Iraq.

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